In Southwestern Ontario, Canada, a recently orphaned boy, named
Lester, lives on his Uncle’s farm and struggles with loneliness and grief and finds it difficult to bond with his uncle. When he completes his chores on the farm, Lester escapes into a private fantasy world in which he is a superhero who fights alien invaders. Lester’s relationship with his
Uncle Ken Papineau grows more strained as the seasons pass, but Lester befriends
Jimmy Lebeuf, the owner of the local town’s gas station. The hulking Lebeuf is a former hockey star injured in a game and now considered to be mentally damaged by the incident. It is Lebeuf, however, who befriends Lester and shares the lonely boy’s fantasy world., much to Uncle Ken’s chagrin.
Essex County Volume 1: Tales from the Farm is the first in a trilogy of graphic novels by
Jeff Lemire (
Lost Dogs), which are set in a fictionalized version of Lemire’s native soil of Essex County, Ontario. The story is a familiar one. It’s a sort of love triangle in which a boy tries to find companionship and acceptance from two adult men. One is the father or male relative responsible for the boy’s upbringing and care – in this case Lester’s Uncle Ken, the older brother of Lester’s mother (who recently died of cancer). The other is the symbolic or surrogate father who supports the boy spiritually, a pal who is fun to be with but has no responsibility in caring for the boy’s material needs and rearing – in this case Jimmy Lebeuf.
Lemire doesn’t make any obvious judgments when it comes to the decisions that Lester makes about love and friendship. His narrative is more about Lester’s well being and self-discovery. In fact, Tales from the Farm is an adventure story about discovery, in which Lester the hero gains a wealth of the kind of knowledge that will serve him well later in life. He’ll discover the loss of his mother’s love doesn’t mean that he isn’t loved. He even figures out just how long he needs to hang onto his interior life, and he will slowly figure out more about his past.
Lemire’s art has a dark and heavy fluid-like quality. This is perfect for tales based on childhood recollections, which are really flowing dreams, always changing slightly and adaptable to whatever the dreamer’s needs are at the time. In a way, Tales from the Farm is similar to R. Kikuo Johnson’s debut graphic novel,
Night Fisher (Fantagraphics Books). Although about the life of a boy at a specific age, Tales from the Farm is a broad universal tale with which many young adult readers may identify. It will also pull softly, but urgently at the heart of any man who remembers being a kid that needed a strong, reassuring hand of friendship.
Tales from the Farm, like other Top Shelf titles, is available directly from the publisher's website,
topshelfcomix.com. The book may also be available in comic book shops. The Comic Shop Locator phone number is 1-888-COMIC BOOK.